Drawer Filing vs. Shelf Filing

To File in a Drawer or on a Shelf, that is the question?

Drawer Filing

Understanding the two methods of paper filing, drawer filing vs. shelf filing is the first step towards understanding which method may be best for you and your files. The drawer method of filing as shown on the left, involves the use of top tab file folders or top tab pendaflex folders. These types of folders are indexed along the top for easy identification when looking down into a drawer.

The biggest limitation of the drawer filing method is poor space utilization. You can only have a file cabinet that is 4 or 5 drawers high, any higher and you cannot see into the drawer. So in most cases over 50% of the vertical space (the space above the floor) in the room goes unused with the drawer filing method.

There are a few other challenges associated with the drawer filing method which should also be taken into consideration.

1. There is a significant amount of physical effort associated with using the drawer filing method, you have to bend over, stoop, kneel or in some cases sit to reach the drawer and then you have to pull it open and push it closed.

(Safety Tip) Typical file drawer with letter size files can weight between 90 lbs. and 135 lbs. fully loaded! Legal size files between 108 lbs. and 168 lbs.

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2. You must also allow space in front of the cabinet for the drawer to pull out into, effectivly doubling the footprint of the file cabinets. There should then be an adequate aisle in front of the open drawer for another employee to walk past. Needless to say the picture to the right above is a violation of that space planning rule, not to mention fire code in most states.

Believe it or not there are more there are multiple types of file storage equipment that allow you to file in a drawer.

1. Vertical File Cabinet

2. Lateral File Cabinet

3. Rotary Cabinet with Pullout Drawers

4. Vertical Carousel with Pullout Drawers

Shelf Filing

The shelf filing method requires the use of side tab file folders (in most cases) or vertical pendaflex better known as the Ellis Workfile System or sometimes called Oblique. These types of folders are indexed on the side for easy identification when looking at the shelf. Many times this style of filing incorporates the use of color coded labels wrapped around the edge of the folder, similar to what you might see in a doctor's office.

The shelf filing method of storage allows the use of between 80 and 100% of the vertical space in the room. Additionally users do not have to move heavy drawers, they simply walk up to the file shelving unit and pull off or put back the file folder they require.

(Safety Tip) Fire code in most states requires that in rooms with fire sprinkler systems, the top of any storage unit must be at least 18" below the bottom of the sprinkler head!  Failure to follow this rule could lead to the fire inspector making you remove or modify the height of your equipment.  Always check with the local municipality to determine what the rules are where you are located.

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The space savings is also realized in terms of aisle space because with shelf filing, there are no drawers to pullout or push back in.  The space saved can often result in more storage capacity for the room!

The initial comment I receive in regards to this comparison is, yes the file shelving sounds better, but you cannot lock it like a file cabinet. Which is true of open file shelving, but we have many door options to turn open shelving into closed shelving. To the left is one option, known as a flipper door, these can come with our without locks. Other options include locking hinged doors or pull down tambour doors. The unique thing about pull down tambour doors is in many cases we can retrofit them to a client's existing open shelving.

Just as with drawer filing, there are multiple file storage equipment options for shelf filing.

1. Open File Shelving

2. Enclosed File Shelving

3. Rotary Cabinet for Shelf Filing

4. Side by Side for Shelf Filing

5. Mobile Shelving, Compact Shelving

6. Vertical Carousel for Shelf Filing

7. Horizontal Carousel

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